Upon his return to civilian life, Torres began to work with the Catholic Diocese of Toledo as a consultant with special responsibilities to expand opportunities for the community of color.
“Although Latinos comprise a significant part of the church, not many can afford a parochial education,” said Torres. He addressed the situation by implementing a number of innovative programs.
Among the solutions Torres put into action was a commitment to seek out private funding to support Catholic education. Another was to convince families of the need to invest in a Catholic education for their children at an early stage in the process. But perhaps his most important initiative was to build empowerment with parents. To meet that goal, Torres created support groups. Torres successfully was able to engage parents in the educational process.
Torres’ skills in the area of community building were quickly recognized. He focused upon scholarship funding and was responsible for funding the Sofia Quintero Art and Cultural Center with the Diocese.
“I was educating parents to consider alternative education for their children,” says Torres, who was often already interfacing with parents who already believed in faith-based education. So he began to expand his responsibilities into working with youth groups. Often, this meant Latino students, and students of color.
Once again, Torres met the challenge and responsibility through innovation. “I developed a series of Hispanic clubs throughout the school system,” says Torres. “Through these organizations, students were enabled to survive the system. I would partner students from as far as St. Wendelin’s in Fostoria. My goal was to bring students together. My work in this aspect was a precursor of the support young people receive from the Hispanic Youth Alliance today.
“As I’ve campaigned for this post on the Toledo School Board, I have met many parents who remember the work I have done for their children. ‘You helped us out,’ they’ll say, and I assure them that my campaign for election to the Toledo School Board does not mean I have turned my back upon any segment of the community. I stress to them, and they agree, that we all need to support young people, no matter if they choose a public or parochial education,” explains Torres.
Torres spent the next five years working in public education. He developed a well-deserved reputation as an advocate not just for school levies, but as an effective advocate for parent groups and associations.
Torres is justifiably proud of his successes. “No other community in Ohio has a Latino- based after school educational program in their public school system. Not Cleveland. Not Columbus. Not Dayton. It is because Toledo knew how to effectively work with the federal No Child Left Behind initiative.
“We can’t wait for others to do things for us. When opportunity knocks, we have to be there to answer,” says Torres.
In this case, the knock on the door was answered by the rapid recognition of the need for a grant and the successful application made by Adelante, Inc. As Torres points out, the innovative program has recently received an Excellent rating for an after school program. Torres says that is because we “engaged and involved the community. We created community access, not barriers.”
Over the last ten years, Torres has headed a host of city positions related to youth, most recently as the city’s Youth Commissioner. As such, he has helped countless young people at schools like Libbey and Woodward to further their educational goals and reach for success.
He proudly but modestly points to his recent role in enabling the recipient of the LatinoFest scholarship to obtain a golf scholarship to a college in North Carolina. “That’s because I realize that education also happens outside the four walls of a school,” explains Torres.
Not only did Torres pledge his own resources to making the scholarship a reality, but he successfully reached out to community leaders to make the scholarship winner's dream come true. “That’s the kind of person I am,” says Torres. “I lead by example.”
But it is not just parents and students who stand to benefit from Torres’ election to the School Board. Torres recognizes the important role plated by teachers and administrators in a successful school system.
“I believe in creating a strong and supporting teacher environment,” says Torres. “Our teachers are under appreciated, under paid, and over burdened.”
Torres also believes you do not need to reinvent a school building or technologies for students to succeed. He points to studies acknowledging that smaller, older schools often have the greatest positive impact upon learning. He knows there is no substitute for a
strong teacher and student relationship, and advocates a learning environment over brick and mortar.
“You need to have accountability in the school system, and to accomplish that, you need to have administrators who have the authority to make decisions,” says Torres.
“You need to have a greater balance in the school system, it has to operate on more of a
level playing field,” he adds.
Torres sees his election to the School Board as helping to usher in a new era of cooperation. “I want to bring the community into the educational process. If we are going to lockdown our schools from 9 to 3, you can’t lock out the community too.
As Torres has proven by his career and devotion to students and their parents, there’s much more to being an educator than a certificate.
Looking back on his career and commitment, Torres views his highly visible work with parochial schools as a positive in terms of his campaign within the greater community. “You can not pigeonhole voters,” he says. “I have found support for the public school program from all segments of the community, Catholic school families vote too. They realize how important it is in this campaign for us to support each other.”
Editor’s Note: Robert Torres, who is a Democratic candidate for the Toledo School Board, is the director of the City of Toledo’s Office of Latino Affairs, created by Mayor Jack Ford in 2003. He is also the president of the Lucas County Democratic Hispanic/Latino Caucus. Torres, 42, is the father of three children.
See more photos from the fundraiser